The Road to Hell
Chapter 10: Another Prison
Harry breathed in deep, inhaling the scents of old parchment and wood varnish. Having become lost in his work, it felt like someone had replaced his spine with an unyielding rod of steel.
Worse than the physical discomfort was his frustration. He had all but lived amongst these books since the onset of September, but his work had, thus far, been largely fruitless.
Not that it had yielded nothing — his explorations into warding were coming along, but there was never any progress when it came to his way home.
There never is when it comes to escaping. It was like he could see the underside of the Dursleys’ stairs again, like he could spy the spiders spinning silken webs.
Dark memories whispered from the shadowed recesses of his mind. Hermione’s teeth digging into his arm as he dragged her out of Malfoy Manor, his hip exploding with pain when struck by a stray spell, the crushing anguish when he aimed the Elder Wand between his best friend’s eyes.
Harry dug his nails deep into his palms, forcing his mind still. I won’t let this be another prison.
Closing his present book, he reached for another; one much older than the thick tome discussing the arithmetic implications of time. Where before there had been sprawling passages and thick arrays of numbers clustered tight together, now there were a thousand symbols in a hundred different tongues.
“That looks really complicated.”
Harry nearly swore aloud. His frustration had grown so bitter that he had missed his ward’s alert and never felt her coming.
“Morning, Lils,” he muttered.
Lily set down her school bag and took the chair across from his. “I thought I might find you here.”
“You and Marlene, both. I might never get any reading done, between the two of you.”
Lily glanced down at his bookmark, nestled somewhere in the old tome’s centre. “It doesn’t look like you’re doing too bad.” She reached out a hand. “May I?”
Harry waved her on; it was not as though there was anything in there that would arouse suspicion.
“This is really advanced,” she muttered.
“It’s a lot,” he admitted. “I just don’t like how far behind I am in warding.”
Lily tapped her finger against a yellowed page. “This doesn’t look like warding.”
“Probably not the way you’re thinking about it.” She continued staring at the book, but said nothing. “Curse breaking.”
Her eyes rose to meet his own. “Curse breaking? Is that what you want to do after Hogwarts?”
“Maybe. I’ve heard they’re paid well.”
Something heavy settled in the pit of his stomach. It was a familiar feeling — the same one he always felt when telling doomed recruits that everything would be okay.
“It’s really good money,” Lily confirmed, “but there’s a reason for that.”
Harry rubbed at his temples. “I know it’s risky work, I just think I’d be good at it.”
“I still don’t think you should rule out becoming a venator. That pays even better and is much more prestigious.” She looked him up and down. “You would be really good at that.”
“I probably would be.” What would it be like, defending established interests? No need for complex subterfuge, no uphill battles…
I’d be working for Dumbledore. His heart soared for half a moment, but then he buried it back down beneath his resolve. I’ll be gone before then, no matter how hard it is.
Cold doubt settled in his throat. How was he ever going to get home? It appeared that there was nothing helpful to be found.
There has to be. He would keep working the same way he had kept fighting.
Lily was still watching him and he could not help but notice the Head Girl’s badge gleaming on her chest. “Are you here to give me detention?” he asked, casting his mind back to the previous night’s skirmish.
“I probably should,” she said. “That was really dangerous magic last night. You know that, don’t you?”
“Not really.” Throwing up his hands, he rushed on. “Okay, well yeah, but not the way I used it. Stone’s an awful conductor. I knew it wasn’t going to do anything more than shock him, and it’s less than the git deserved.” Still it sickened him, saying that about his father.
“You could have lost control,” Lily argued. “Your hand could have twitched, or the spell could have gotten away from you, or—”
“It was never going to get away from me.” The words came unbidden and he wondered why. Maybe I just want to be honest for once. “That’s one of the spells I’m best with; it’s kind of a specialty of mine.”
The stern look slid off Lily’s face. “I don’t like it when you say things like that,” she murmured.
Harry frowned. “Why not?”
“It’s just… no one our age should know spells like that. It makes me wonder what your old life was like.”
Maintaining eye contact required all the will he had. “Sorry, I’d tell you if I knew.”
“I know you would.” She sighed. “If you tell a professor I said this, I’ll put you in detention for the rest of the year, but it was nice seeing Potter get his arse handed to him.”
He smiled despite himself — a sour smile that nearly brought up bile. “I thought you might have liked that.”
“Just… don’t hurt him too badly, all right? Potter’s an idiot, but he doesn’t deserve death by lightning.”
There was a loud buzz in the Great Hall when they stepped through the double doors. Harry braced himself, but fewer stares than usual marked his path towards the table clothed in scarlet.
Weird. How was it that he had outduelled half of the Marauders, blasted the Head Boy with lightning, and then attracted fewer stares the next morning?
“Look at this!” Sunlight reflected off Marlene’s plate and rendered whatever she was holding blurred and indistinct. Harry squinted. A newspaper? His heart sank.
What a headline it would be — Savage Student Injures Governor’s Son: Repercussions Forthcoming.
Lily snatched the prophet from Marlene’s fist and his heart ceased its falling. It was worse than he had imagined; a headline that stilled the world around him.
Chilling Symbol Marks Gruesome Bout of Terrorism
The Dark Mark. There was no mistaking that massive skull and its serpent’s tongue.
Heart thumping, he threw a glance up towards the staff table. Riddle was there, like always, conversing with Slughorn while picking his way through a plate of beans and toast.
Chill fingers trailed their way down Harry’s spine. This Riddle worried him in a way that Voldemort had seldom done. He was more like the charming mastermind in Dumbledore’s pensieve than the crazed madman Harry had contested with for so many years.
How powerful was he? He had been permitted free reign in a way that Voldemort had not. Was it possible that had broadened his horizons, or perhaps granted more resources with which to hone his skills?
The longer Harry thought, the less sure he grew.
Had Riddle fought here? Had there been any wars since the Surrender? Harry had to learn more about this Riddle if he planned on dealing with him prior to returning home.
Harry rescanned the final paragraph — a plea for anyone with information to come forward. Should he say something? Should he report…
What? That I know how Riddle goes about terrorism?
A foolish thought. Accusing the Hogwarts Headmaster without proof would be utter madness.
Warm fingers gently pried at his. He jolted; he was gripping the table so tightly that his wrist ached and his hand was going numb.
Marlene massaged his wrist. “It’s okay, they’ll be caught. They always are.”
Not Riddle. Not when he lurked in such plain sight. This is what he always wanted. It was what would have happened had Dumbledore not seen through him.
An eagle owl landed mere inches from his plate, attracting Harry’s attention. It was a quiet bird that held still long enough for him to remove the envelope from its leg without drama.
It is my duty as headmaster to investigate last night’s melee. Please report to my office this evening at 9:00 PM.
Harry choked down the urge to scowl. Oh, for fuck’s sake…
“Sit down.” Riddle’s voice was sharp, but not unkind. Harry took his seat and waited. “I won’t bore you by restating what happened. There are enough accounts already. What does interest me is your perspective.”
Harry let a fraction of his discomfort show. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, Headmaster. I thought you said you had enough accounts of what happened.”
Goosebumps writhed beneath Harry’s robes; Riddle’s smile was all too understanding. “I’m afraid you misunderstood. I don’t want to know what you did, I want to know why you did it and what you think about it now.”
Act like a teenager. “Potter’s been harassing me for a month and then tried cursing me in the back. I didn’t think much, I just sort of acted.”
Staring inches away from Riddle’s eyes, he projected all the false nervousness he could. A master legilimens could decipher things without the need for eye contact — they had learned that the hard way during the war against Voldemort, but there were some advantages.
Riddle lounged back in his chair. “Thank you for your honesty.”
There was no doubt in him; just the idea that he could be mistaken must have been as foreign to him as friends and fame had been to an eleven-year-old Harry.
He looked away from Riddle as he recalled the war, just in case. Seeing the tapestry again sickened him, so instead he eyed the trinkets. One from each founder — just the way Voldemort had wanted.
But that doesn’t seem right. Voldemort’s obsession with a seven-part soul had derived from arithmancy. Four horcruxes plus his remaining soul shard made five pieces; a poor number compared to three or seven.
“You were fascinated by them the last time as well,” Riddle observed.
Harry hoped he looked casual. “I just never thought I’d see them.”
“You know what they are?”
“Ravenclaw’s diadem, Hufflepuff’s cup, Slytherin’s wand, and Gryffindor’s sword.” It was the last that stung, the last that nearly caused him to stumble.
“I felt that recovering them was my duty once I learned of my heritage.” I’ll bet you did, Riddle. “Collecting them was one of my greatest achievements.”
Harry gambled. “What do you consider your greatest achievement, sir?”
Riddle hummed. “A good question.” There was a pregnant pause. “I think life is about living the way you want to live. My greatest achievement is living an all but perfect life and accomplishing all the goals I once dreamt of.”
All the goals he once dreamt of — that had to mean horcruxes.
But what are they? They couldn’t be the trinkets on display, could they? Not even Riddle could be that arrogant, could he?
The yearning Harry so often felt for his invisibility cloak bore down on him. I could easily just sneak in one night and test them if I had it. Doing that without the cloak would be many times more difficult. But I have to. He had promised himself that he would not leave his friends under Riddle’s mercy when he found a way back home.
“Remember that,” said Riddle, “but also understand what is and isn’t worth your time.”
Harry snapped his focus back onto the present. “Worth my time?”
“You remind me of myself at times.” That made him sicker than even fighting with his father had. “Impressing the Emperor, wowing your professors, handling grudges with elaborate magic.” Riddle was leaning forward again. “Sorcerers are not made equal. Some of us have a higher capacity. It is a gift, Harry, and people like us must not waste it brawling in the corridors. You understand, I’m sure.”
Harry plastered on the fakest smile of his life. “Of course, Headmaster, I understand.” Soon he would use his gifts to full effect.
Dust coated fraying spines like a grey layer of snow that glittered in the light of Harry’s wand as he searched the Restricted Section for the fourth time in the past forty-five minutes.
He was certain he must have missed something his first time through. The second had teased dread’s fingers down into his stomach, while the third had prompted the iron grip they now held around his heart.
This fourth inspection was depriving him of breath. There could be no mistake, but believing the truth was harder than anything he had done since arriving in this strange and twisted world.
There are no more books.
There were plenty on things like curses and potions — rituals, necromancy, and other fancies that made his skin crawl up and down his arms.
But no more on time.
Dark shadows danced across the dusty shelves, cast by the wavering light of his unsteady wand.
Numb shock reached for him, but he recoiled from its icy touch. Breathe…
There was no use dwelling on problems that were beyond his means. Often there appeared no answer until a solution presented itself in due time. If the war had taught him anything, it was to stay well clear of shock and its deadly, vice-like grip. Succumbing to its tender mercy was among the most common ways that good men died.
So I focus on my other problem.
He strode back to the nearest desk and flipped open a half-read tome.
Notable Figures of the Twentieth Century
He skimmed the book until finding his desired page.
Tom Marvolo Riddle
If Harry could not yet solve the larger problem, then it was best to focus on the promises he had made regarding Riddle.
The book waxed on about his life in a muggle orphanage and how he had been abused. It discussed his upbringing, his time at Hogwarts, and how his life had been changed when the emperors prevailed and he had been rescued from the muggle world.
Harry let his gaze speed past paragraphs until he reached a passage that intrigued him.
There were high hopes for Tom Riddle upon his graduation from Hogwarts in 1945. Perfect exam scores and academic awards had followed him all throughout his school years. Many considered the then Slytherin heir the first real prodigy in a new, exciting age.
After a short but perplexing stint working for a well-known but ill-respected shop, Riddle spent the next five years living up to those lofty standards. Crowds all across the world gathered and heard his story as he spoke on behalf of the Order of Merlin. Countless witches and wizards have cited his speeches as powerful inspirations that helped shape their lives.
Riddle became renowned for his work. None doubted then how high he would rise — not with his heaps of charisma, and not with what appeared to be the favour of both emperors. Some went as far as predicting that, before long, he would have a place on the High Council representing one of the empire’s five crown kingdoms.
No one predicted his sudden disappearance in the fall of 1955. Atticus Lestrange assumed the regency of the Slytherin estate, but there was no sign of Tom Riddle until a decade later.
When the prodigy bearing so many high hopes returned, it was not as a High Council member or as an imperial official, but as the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — a post he held until Armando Dippet’s retirement in 1971. Riddle has remained the school’s headmaster ever since.
Many feel that talent like his should not be wasted overseeing everyday affairs like those that go on at Hogwarts. Some have speculated that his disappearance was the sign of a rift between him and the emperors and that said division is the reason he has never risen to the heights so many thought he would.
Harry had read that passage three times now, and his opinion had changed with each re-reading.
First he had dismissed the speculations as nothing more than idle gossip. Riddle loved Hogwarts; it was natural he would return to it like he had wanted to in Harry’s world.
The second time he grew less sure. Riddle was Lord Slytherin here. There had been hardship, but he had been revered and welcomed in a way he never had where Harry came from.
The third reading forced him to rethink things. Not long ago he had mused that Riddle’s post within Hogwarts meant the emperors were not wary enough of him, but now he second-guessed himself.
Could it be that Riddle remained at Hogwarts so the emperors could watch him? Had his disappearance frayed their nerves?
It doesn’t matter. The important thing was that Riddle had still worked for Borgin and Burkes and had still vanished for a decade. That was probably when he had discovered all those artifacts and made his horcruxes.
Did it mean the trinkets in his office really were horcruxes? Maybe he had left Slytherin’s locket untainted? And what about the ring? Had those two heirlooms remained lost? There was no telling without getting closer.
Harry’s skin tingled and his fingers flexed. Sitting idle and pondering what needed doing was driving him half-mad. A glance up towards the nearest clock showed him that most would be at breakfast. There was no better time to scout.
I won’t actually go in, he promised himself. That would be stupid without planning.
The gargoyle’s dark eyes roamed the corridor when Harry drew near, disillusioned so completely that he was invisible.
Inhaling a calming breath, he reached out with phantom fingers. There were, of course, wards. About a dozen detection wards, all meant to alert Riddle. Those had been expected, but there were less pleasant things buried deep beneath them.
Harry focused on those darker traps. Their buzz was fiercer, like a roaring lion trapped behind a high enclosure.
It was a tricky scheme, but nothing like the chamber’s.
This is doable — bloody risky, but doable.
It would require more practice — and these exact wards would need studying — but his anticipation was already building.
Something to do; an actual goal.
Not a broad one like getting home or stopping Riddle — a short-term goal he could achieve; a goal whose necessary steps were already plotted.
Soon, he told himself. Soon I’ll find out if they’re really horcruxes, then I’ll…
What? Steal them?
If they really were horcruxes, then he would. It seemed that returning home would take longer than he had planned. If he had to spend so much time here, he wanted Riddle dealt with. Plus, he had promised.
High, cold laughter mocked him and his resolve grew hard as steel. Not this time, Riddle.
The mid-November wind beat at him as he passed beneath the gates and began his trek up towards the castle. He drew his cloak tight about his shoulders as its tassels flapped like the black wings belonging to the murder of crows cawing down at him from nearby trees. Many of them flanking his path were slim and bare-branched, poor replacements for the mountains that had sheltered him while he practiced curse breaking.
The pine and yew trees among their number had been welcome, but now they were shrinking back and permitting the wind to slice at him. Nothing loomed ahead but the flattened, frost-tipped lawns sloping up towards the castle.
No, that’s not right, he thought some minutes later. Something was moving up ahead — three somethings, their shadows stark against the castle’s light as they exited the double doors and swept down the grounds towards him.
He halted and withdrew his wand. Still it was darker than the night around him but for those fine, golden patterns.
His grip tightened when he spotted a rat-like face beside a glossy mane of raven hair.
“Where’s Potter?” he asked when the other three Marauders stopped mere feet away from him.
“With your friend, Evans.” Sirius held up his hands when Harry tensed. “Not like that — they’re in a meeting with the headmaster. You know, ‘Head Boy and Head Girl’ stuff.”
Unbidden, the wand shuddered in his hand and he could swear he heard its whispers rasping in his ear. “Then what are you three doing here?”
“Making peace.” Remus’s prefect badge gleamed in the light of Harry’s wand as the werewolf stepped forward.
Harry eased his grip by the slimmest margin. Is he even a werewolf here? What did the empire think about werewolves? “I’ve noticed that Potter hasn’t tried attacking me these last few weeks,” he said to Remus. “Your doing, I take it?”
A grimace writhed across the face whose youth still shocked him. “No,” Remus admitted. “I’ve never been good at making James see sense.”
Sirius ran a black-gloved hand through his windswept mane. “I think what I said helped a bit, but you can mostly thank his mother.”
“Yeah,” Sirius muttered. “I think he hoped she’d pull some strings and make you miserable, but he was disappointed.”
Was Harry’s father really this much like Malfoy? “What did she say?”
The Black heir’s lips twitched. “We’re not sure, but he wasn’t happy.”
Pettigrew snickered from behind Sirius. “He really wasn’t happy.”
“He spent all day storming around the common room and putting anyone he could in detention,” Remus admitted.
“Not that you noticed,” said Sirius. “You were hiding out in the library.”
Harry decided it was best to play along. “So that’s how you kept ambushing me? You have some way of knowing where everyone in the castle is?”
Sirius just smirked. “We might.”
Sirius’s grey eyes roamed, but there was no one else nearby. “I’m sorry about James.”
“We all are,” said Remus. “He has always been impulsive.”
“A real nightmare, sometimes,” muttered Pettigrew.
“We’re working on him,” Sirius promised. “I don’t know what Aunt Dorea wrote him, but she sent me quite the tongue-lashing. Something about me being an irresponsible prat whose enabling ways were making our family look silly.”
Remus squeezed his close friend’s shoulder. “Sirius has been better about speaking his mind since Samhain.”
“I always just went along with it,” the Black heir admitted. “It was all just good fun. I never realized how bad it had gotten until…”
“Until you got a wake-up call?” Harry finished. Sirius stared down between his feet, examining the withered grass.
The wind’s teeth had retracted, its once sharp bite now a pleasant tickle on his skin. “I appreciate you lot trying,” Harry said. “I’d rather not curse him again, if I can avoid it.”
“We would too,” said Remus. “We really are trying, it’s just…”
“I get it.”
Harry paused halfway to the castle, turning back around. The three Marauders had exited the grounds, now following the path to Hogsmeade.
A small smile teased his lips. Maybe they really were just a group of teenagers who had let things get out of hand. I hope so.
The cold drafts outside bit straight through the walls of Gryffindor Tower. The higher he climbed, the colder it grew, but still, a warm shroud protected him when he reached the Fat Lady’s portrait.
“Pendragon.” He wondered whether the other houses were burdened with empire-related passwords as he stepped through and into the blissful familiarity of his common room.
Bottles clinked in distant corners and laughing herds made rackets near the fire. A group of first years chasing each other around the room’s perimeter almost ran him over, but he sidestepped their path and scanned the crowd until he saw Mary and Marlene. The latter’s head popped up when he stepped through the portrait hole, but her shoulders sagged when she saw that it was him.
“I’m wounded,” he said once seated right across from her.
She frowned up at him through long, dark lashes. “Wounded?”
“You almost looked sad when I walked in.”
“She’s waiting for Lils,” Mary explained, snickering. “She wants to grill her about the meeting with Headmaster Riddle.”
“I do not!” Marlene’s blazing cheeks betrayed her. “I just want to know how big a git Potter was.”
“Potter’s been all right the last few weeks,” Mary retorted.
Harry tried ignoring the churning in his stomach as the girls began bickering.
Does Marlene really have a crush on Riddle? She was good and kind; if Riddle could snare people like her so easily, that boded ill.
“And how long will that last?” Marlene asked.
“Hopefully longer than you’ll take making a fool of yourself in front of the Headmaster.”
“You bitch!” Mary just laughed harder in the face of her friend’s rage.
Marlene drew her wand and unleashed a harmless string of hexes. Harry leapt up, retreating as the pair descended into helpless laughter.
Laughing was the last thing he felt like doing.
Both girls’ calls trailed him up the stairs and into his empty dorm room. The warmth brought on by the Marauders had been extinguished; now he felt cold and tired.
I’ll kill Riddle, he thought behind his scarlet drapings. Better that than watching people like his parents or Marlene fall like autumn leaves. No matter how long I’m here, I’ll kill him.
Water trickled down past his collar and ran chill fingers down his back when Harry brushed a cluster of snowflakes from his untidy mess of hair. The day was cool but windless, the morning ripe despite the snow.
“Come on!” Marlene urged Mary with an arm around her shoulders. “It’s beautiful out; we should walk around the village.”
Mary sniffed and pulled away. “I’m cold,” she shivered, wiping at her runny nose.
“It’s not —”
“Lay off her, Marlene.” Lily took a step between them. “Look at her; she’s in no state to bear the cold.”
Marlene bit her tongue. “Fine, but I’m going to Honeydukes after lunch no matter what state she’s in.”
Mary wrapped her arms around herself. “I’ll be better after lunch.” Her longing stare had not wavered from the Three Broomsticks. “I just need something hot.”
Harry’s stomach was rumbling by the time they all received their orders. A spicy tang was wafting from his plate of ribs while thin spirals of sweet-scented steam curled up from his butterbeer.
“Better?” Lily asked when Mary sipped her own drink and exhaled.
Their sick friend smiled. “Much.” She really did look a shade less pale, and a spark of mischief that had thus far been absent now flickered in her eyes. “What are you looking at?” she asked Marlene. “You know the Headmaster won’t be here.”
“It’s not about him!” Harry’s stomach shrivelled up, stripping him of any appetite. She hadn’t even denied the crush this time. “It’s Potter; he keeps looking at the door as if he expects something to happen.”
Marlene was right. The glances were furtive and expectant; every inch of James the picture of impatience.
Harry extended out his senses. He knew that whatever had James so eager might well bode ill for him.
There was magic coming from outside.
Harry raised his hand, prepared to summon the Elder Wand, but the diner’s door was already open and half a dozen men were stepping through. Their dark red robes fluttered in the breeze as they crossed the threshold and formed a tight ring around the room’s perimeter.
Another pair of footsteps attracted his attention, then stole his breath away. Long black hair fanned freely down the woman’s back and her light grey eyes appeared almost green in the dim, ruddy light of lanterns.
Only once had Harry seen her — smiling out at him from behind the shimmering surface of the Mirror of Erised — but he remembered as clearly as if they had spoken every day.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” said Dorea Potter, née Black, wife to the Lord Governor. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I have business here that needs attending to and these fine gentlemen don’t let me traipse around alone. I would appreciate it if you all gave us some space and enjoyed the rest of the village. There won’t be any bills today, I’ll take care of those.”
“Stay here, sir,” one of the aurors said when Harry tried rising. “The lady wants a word with you.”
He repeated all the exercises Aberforth had shown him over the summer as the diner emptied and Dorea Potter took a seat across from him. The aurors remained behind, ringing the room but standing far enough away that their words would be unheard.
Dorea waved over Madam Rosmerta. “Can I trouble you for some wine, my dear?”
“Of-of course, m-my lady.”
“Good, and top up the young man’s drink while you’re at it.” Rosmerta bustled off and Dorea turned her charming smile on him. “I’ve heard quite a lot about you.”
“I have a feeling they’re not all good things.” These were probably the wrong words; there was a reason why Kingsley had handled politics whenever the need for negotiating arose.
Rosmerta rushed back with a glass of wine and a bottle of butterbeer before scrambling back behind the bar and through a warded door.
Dorea sipped her wine before answering. “That depends on how you look at things.”
“And how do you look at things?” Harry asked.
“You’re a sharp one, aren’t you?” He gave no answer, so she sipped her wine again. “I think you have all the talent in the world. I also think it would be a shame if you threw it all away by using it unwisely.”
Whether it was the aurors’ presence or the meaning of Dorea’s words, his blood boiled and the grip he held around his goblet tightened. “Are you threatening me?”
“Be careful, my dear. Your sob story doesn’t excuse your lack of manners.”
“Do you expect that I believe the tales you’ve told?” Her smile turned soothing when she saw how tense he’d grown. “Don’t worry yourself — not all important people feel the way I do.”
Breathe. It was no real revelation; he had known that he was being closely watched, and it was only natural that many would be unfooled. “Is that so… my lady?”
“Much better, you learn quickly.” She took another sip of wine. “You’re quite the enigma. Anyone important enough to know what happened in Greece has an opinion about you, but they all seem different.”
Harry turned his words over. “Can I ask yours, my lady?”
“Hm? Oh, I think you’re a dirty little liar.” Her voice contained no malice. “Plenty of people agree, but most aren’t quite as sure. It’s hard dismissing your story when there really is no explanation for where you came from.”
This must have been the sensation felt by rats when coiled serpents slithered into range, he thought. “Is that what you’re here to talk about?”
She waved a hand, her black-painted nails sparkling in the nearest lantern’s light. “Your story is none of my concern.” There was a short pause during which he fought the urge to squint at her. “Does that surprise you?”
“A bit,” he admitted.
“Your story is only the business of my husband and I if you make it so.” She folded her hands in her lap and peered at him across the table. “You do look so much like James. It’s uncanny.”
“I’ve been told.”
She laughed; a tinkling, silvery sound, finer than the richest silk. “I’m sure you have. I would be surprised if my son hasn’t made a comment or two.”
So this is what she wants to talk about. He decided outright lies were best avoided. “Your son and I aren’t exactly on the best of terms.”
“So I’ve heard. I ought to thank you; he’s been much more open-minded since his comeuppance on Samhain.”
“I… don’t know how to answer that.”
“You’re more honest than I expected,” Dorea observed. “I like that.”
Sitting there and fighting the irrational urge to blush, it had been a long time since he had felt so much like a child. “Thank you, my lady.”
“Do avoid leaving any permanent marks on James’s pretty face. I’d like to use that potential of yours, but there are some things we can’t look past. Permanently maiming the governor’s heir would be one of them; I’m sure you understand.”
There were unseen layers hidden in those words, but digging through them proved a lofty task. “I’ll do my best,” he told her.
“Good.” She swept up to her feet with a gentle smile. “I’m sure your friends are waiting, so I won’t keep you any longer. It was lovely meeting you, and I hope we’ll chat again.”
“Once you believe things are permanent, you’re trapped in a world without doors.”
— Genesis P-Orridge
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